Long distance riding can be quite tricky so it is important that you are well prepared before setting off. This includes taking the right clothing and equipment to knowing where you will sleep and rest. The problem with long distance riding is that you will be a long way from home which makes it more vital that you have undertaken the correct preparation.
Knowing what to take depends on the length of the journey. It’s amazing how little is needed and can be packed in a small space. Forget bottles and go for sachet items as these are generally lighter. Obviously if you take medication you must include it, but if you can leave boxes behind and instead you can use self-seal sandwich bags as most tablets come in blister packs. Other things you should take include a basic first aid kit for your horse and yourself; your toothbrush and toothpaste. In addition, a penknife and some string will come in handy for tying gates shut or tying items to saddles. The penknife can also be used for picking out stones from hooves. Spare lightweight clothing packs down well and there’s no need to bother dressing for dinner! Light weight wet weather gear is more important. If you can’t change into something dry you need to keep dry. There’s nothing worse than being cold and wet (I still haven’t found a summer weight raincoat that doesn’t make me as wet inside as out from sweat). If you are planning on lighting a meth stove keep your matches dry in your pocket. Wrap everything in plastic bags to keep it dry. Don’t trust your saddle bags to do the job. The same goes with your money in a money belt, it can get wet with sweat!
In terms of saddle bags, this also depends on the length of your trip. There are some good ones that attach to the back/front of the saddle that are small and have good capacity. You can also get a larger pannier type for the longer journey but with these you need to weigh the items so the panniers are well balanced and it keeps the horse balanced to prevent you going round in circles again! I keep a list of what went where so I know roughly how to maintain it. For much longer trips you can take a packhorse with purpose made panniers. There are quite a few on the international market, but it is difficult finding them within the UK market. The weight distribution is really important as is the padding to prevent sores.
Start with shorter journeys to get the feel of it and learn from mistakes. If the journey is short it is easier to get help and return home should a problem arise. My Tennessee Walker did her first 100 miles (160kms) of a 260 mile (416kms) journey from South to North Wales and she was very tired from it, so we had to bring her home and fetch my more experienced part-bred Arab who finished the journey, missing a day’s ride in the process. Peruse your map and decide your route and distance, then divide it up into daily distances. If you are booking accommodation you can use the internet to search in those places for your destination. Otherwise wild camping is an alternative but you should still have an idea of where you will stop.
You can use computer mapping systems and print off your route. If you do this you can laminate the sheets to keep them dry within your map case. A good skill to have when long riding is to be able to read a compass especially where landmarks are scarce, but this is not easy on a horse! If you can’t map read you are lost from the beginning so go and get some tuition and practise exploring in safe locations. There are also some useful websites that can give you an idea with photographs of the route you have chosen and whether it is passable.